Graduate Student Handbook: Comprehensive Examination

Examination Overview

The aim of the comprehensive examination is to ensure that the student has a broad knowledge and critical understanding of the major trends and controversies in the field. In general terms the examination asks broad integrative questions designed to assess the student's understanding of the major trends in the primary literature.

Previous examinations are kept on file in the PSYC Graduate Office and are available to students preparing for their own examination. Students in the graduate program are required to pass a Comprehensive Exam in their Program area as part of their Doctoral degree.

Program-Specific Formats

The timing and details of format, etc. are the responsibility of the Area Chairperson. There are a variety of formats, e.g. in-class, take-home, review paper. Students have the choice, with the approval of their supervisor, of completing a standard in-class examination, followed by an oral at the discretion of the examining committee, or a standard take-home examination (with a time limit of one week maximum) followed by a mandatory oral. Follow the links below for details of the comprehensive examination process for your area of study:

Faculty Member Responsibility

Setting, scheduling, conducting and marking Doctoral Comprehensive Examinations is the responsibility of the Chair of the relevant area of study and their committees. Area Chairs are responsible for providing the PSYC Graduate Program Administrator with a file copy of the examination, the PhD Comprehensive/Qualifying Examination Notice (PDF, 566 KB), and must retain the written examinations for a period of 12 months. Area Chairs submit decisions regarding examination results to the PSYC Graduate Coordinator within one month of completion of the examination.

Student Responsibility

Students must indicate their intent to write the Comprehensive Examination in their Annual Report. Students in the graduate program are required to pass a Comprehensive Examination with the first attempt taken by 30 June of the PhD2 year.

Evaluations of Comprehensive Examinations

  • All examinations will be marked on a pass-fail basis.

  • Both written and oral examination components must be passed.

Retaking of Examinations

Two re-takes/re-submissions of the comprehensive examinations/review papers are permitted with the first re-take/re-submission normally being attempted at the next scheduled examination date. These must be held within one year of the first attempt.


An informal appeal should be directed initially to the chair of the committee (within two weeks of receipt of the negative result). If an agreement is not possible at the informal level, a formal appeal should be directed in writing to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. Appeal to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies may not be made until the student has exhausted all normal re-take possibilities.

Students who wish to appeal the composition of the examining committee my appeal to the Graduate Committee. Appeals should be made at least 8 weeks prior to the examination.

It is expected that the final level of appeal in the department shall be the Department Chair. Beyond this level, the student may have recourse to the procedures laid down by the University Senate.


Giovanna Crocco
Graduate Program Administrator

Department of Psychology, 62 Arch Street
Queen's University
Kingston, ON K7L 3N6